Posts by Fr. James Kurzynski

Bursting Bubbles: Understanding Solar Eclipses and the Bible (Part One)
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On December 21, 2012, some people held their breath thinking that the world was coming to an end. As you recall, an ancient Mayan calendar was running out of days, prompting some to presume that the calendar was predicting the end of the world. Since you are reading this post, the world obviously did not end. In fact, there was no credible reason for people to have presumed such a thing. There was no Mayan prophecy that predicted this date and the calendar itself contained no foreshadowing of a cataclysmic end. In “the end,” it turned out that the calendar simply needed to be updated after the collapse of Mayan civilization. Sometimes answers are far simpler than we want them to be. I share this reflection because the conspiracy theorists are at it again. With the solar eclipse around the corner on August 21st, an event I look forward to with much excitement, the end of the world is once … Continue reading

Confronting Our Geocentric Tendencies
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Just how geocentric is the human race? In a quick Google search of the term “Geocentric,” one finds a fascinating collection of hits. Many are simply online definitions of Geocentrism while others gravitate, both charitably and uncharitably, to the “hyper biblical literalism” that is falsely presumed to be the sole source of an Earth-centered view of the universe. The reason I say “falsely presumed” is because a geocentric view of the world is a natural part of our intuition regardless of religious or cultural belief. If you disagree with me, go outside, stand still, and ask yourself, “Do you feel the Earth rotating?” I think it is safe to presume that your answer would be “no.” Now look to the horizon in any direction and ask yourself, “Is the Earth flat or spherical based on what I see?” Based on what you see, it is flat. Lastly, look up at a clear night sky and ask, “What is moving, me … Continue reading

Attentiveness: The Meeting Point Between Patience, Astronomy, And Spirituality.
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If you have a friend who is into astronomy and want to see how much of a purist they are when approaching their craft, just ask the following question, “What is your opinion on self-aligning telescopes?”  A self-aligning telescope is one that uses either GPS or digital images to orient itself, allowing the observer to simply use a hand controller to tell the telescope what you would like to observe in the night sky. The purist will scoff, quickly pointing out that using such a telescope skips the necessary and at time frustrating process of learning how to navigate the night sky with the naked eye to the point of seeing the stars as a type of “road map.” For some of my friends, using such a tool would be considered grounds for “hobby astronomy excommunication.” You may be wondering, “Fr. James, what is your opinion on self-aligning telescopes?” Well, at the risk of being ousted from the hobby astronomy … Continue reading

Environmental Ethics and Ethos. The RSE Symposia on the Adriatic and Baltic Seas.
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One of the newest fields of theology and philosophy is Environmental Ethics. In addition to being new, this field is also one of the more challenging subjects to keep current. The reason for this difficulty is that the rapid growth of technology often outpaces our ability to reflect on a given technology’s moral implications. This lag between the advancement of technology and the moral implications of technology have, at times, allowed for great damage to be done to our environment. This tension between technological advancement and environmental crisis led the members of the Religion, Science, and Environment Symposia (RSE) to organize two events to accomplish two main goals: The development of ethical principles to address ecological issues and the development of an environmental ethos to inspire people to put those ethics into action. Once again, the spiritual leader of these symposia was Patriarch Bartholomew and the locations of the symposia were the Adriatic Sea and the Baltic Sea. The RSE … Continue reading

Astronomy Bucket List: Experiencing The Wonder!
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Do you have an astronomy “bucket list?” This past Sunday, I had a wonderful afternoon at the home of one of my parishioners. I took my H-Alpha solar telescope along with me to look at the Sun. As I am getting a little older and my assignments are getting a little more complex, I am finding myself gravitating more to solar observation during the day. Night calls me to go to sleep earlier and earlier as the years roll by. As I was setting up my telescope, I began to see a palpable joy emerge from the family that I was visiting. The father of the family sprang up from his patio chair, displaying the same type of eagerness a child displays on Christmas morning before opening their gifts. Suddenly, he informed me, “Father James, observing a solar flare (or prominence) on the Sun is on my bucket list!” The statement caught me off guard. I have observed solar prominences … Continue reading

Ideology Vs. Environment: What the Danube River can teach us about faith, ecology, politics, and human dignity.
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Continuing our series on the Religion, Science, and Environment (RSE) Symposia organized by the Greek Orthodox Church, today we explore the 1999 symposium on the Danube River. The previous RSE symposium explored the ecological crisis that threatening the Black Sea. One of the main themes of the symposium was how pollution from the Danube River was flowing into the Black Sea, contributing to its denigration. In light of this, it makes sense that the symposium to follow the Black Sea gathering would be held on the blue Danube. The Danube River connects ten countries with a drainage basin that finds its way into a number of other counties. The countries themselves represent some of the most war-torn regions of Europe, originating in Germany and making its way through Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine. These countries, along with the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, have developed the International Commission for the Protection of the … Continue reading

Embracing the need for faith and science: How not to read the story of the “Doubting Thomas”
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This past Sunday was Divine Mercy Sunday. It is a new feast, established by St. John Paul II, to emphasize the need for our world to encounter Christ’s mercy. Many parishes held daylong events of prayer and confession, centered on the Divine Mercy devotion established by St. Faustina Kowalska. Though the feast day is new, the readings of the day are not. Completing the octave of Easter, the Church has long reflected upon Jesus’ appearance in the upper room to his disciples on this Sunday. Though the doors of the upper room were locked, the risen Jesus enters the room, presenting to them his wounds and saying, “Peace be with you.” It is a powerful passage that, even after almost 14 years of priesthood, brings a moment of pause to the congregation when Christ’s words of peace are proclaimed. The second half of the Gospel presents what many call the story of the “Doubting Thomas.” The typical misread of this … Continue reading

Earth Day and Catholicism: What Is A Christian To Do?
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So, how are you going to celebrate Earth Day? If you were to ask me this question about twenty years ago, you probably would have received a dumbfounded look with the simple response, “Why would I celebrate Earth Day?” Like many Americans, I had a rather suspicious attitude toward such celebrations, thinking of them as merely days of political statements and protests against anyone who didn’t embrace a 100% “Green” lifestyle. As a devout Catholic, I also struggled with expressions of what I would call an Environmental Spiritualism, treating the Earth as if it were God or another type of deity. In short, Earth Day was not high on my priority list. In time, however, my attitude began to change toward Earth Day. The beginning of the change occurred when I was in college and started to delve into Catholic Social Teaching (CST). I was surprised to discover that one of the seven themes of CST put forward in the Compendium … Continue reading

Holy Week: The Tension Between Symbols of Victory, Violence and Peace.
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One of the beautiful aspects of Christianity is its profound use of symbol. During Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, we encounter some of the most powerful symbols of our faith. Yesterday, the Christian world held palm branches, reminding us of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem amid joyful cries of “Hosanna in the Highest!” This procession reminds the Christian of the hope-filled expectation that Jesus was the promised Messiah, seeking to establish a new kingdom for the Children of Israel and the world. The irony of Palm Sunday is that this symbol of victory is quickly met with the ultimate symbol of violence and defeat: the crucifix. This move from Palm Sunday to Passion Sunday in the same liturgy recalls the quick turn from the joyful entry into Jerusalem to the tragic journey of the Way of Cross. This turn also highlights the twofold symbol of the palm branch as both victory and humility, recalling how we were marked at the beginning of Lent with … Continue reading

The Power Of A Word: The Movie Arrival and Sacramental Cosmology
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One of the best movies I have seen in some time is Arrival. Many presume this movie is simply about an alien encounter. However, the deeper narrative of the movie explores a simple, but fascinating question: How does language impact how we experience reality? The plot of the movie unfolds with a growing tension between beings whose language is not conditioned by time and humanity with our language that is rooted in the sequential unfolding of time. It is only when these languages come together and are experienced in linguist Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) that the plot is finally resolved as she experiences key, historical events from the future in one moment. (I will refrain from any more details in the event you haven’t seen the movie.) When leaving the theater, I was left with the question, “How much is our understanding of the world we live in limited by the language we speak and are there other languages … Continue reading

An Urgent Plea: Pray for Peru.
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Originally, I had planned this post to be a light-hearted reflection on stargazing in the southern hemisphere. The parish of which I am Pastor, St. Joseph Parish in Menomonie, Wisconsin, took a ten-day mission trip to our Diocesan Orphanage, Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II, in Lurin, Peru. In light of my past mission trips to Casa, I was already mapping out a post for the The Catholic Astronomer before departure. However, events from the trip forced a change of theme. One afternoon, I was offering spiritual direction to a Casa staff volunteer. We were sitting outside underneath the shade of a tree when a low flying helicopter caught our attention. It was so low that it sounded like it was going to land on the orphanage grounds. It was blaring a loud siren while slowly hovering over the city of Lurin. We began to wonder what this warning was about? We had heard earlier of flooding in parts of Peru, but since there was … Continue reading

When Religion and Science Sought To Save The Black Sea: 1997 Waterborne Symposium
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What would it take to “kill off” an entire sea? In the late 1990’s, those who depend on the Black Sea for food and the stability of their economy wondered if this question had become reality. In the 1980’s, the Black Sea was seen by many as a body of water that could feed the world given its abundance of aquatic life. In the late 1990’s, this bountiful sea was being transformed into a kind of “underwater desert.” Fishermen were coming back with empty nets, promising both economic hardship and social difficulties given the region’s dependence upon the Black Sea for food. This shocking turn of events led world leaders to ask a logical question: What happened to this bountiful body of water? A simple summary of a very complex problem was that the amount of pollutants finding their way into the Black Sea was dramatically increasing. As these pollutants were being introduced, the chemistry of the Black Sea was … Continue reading